Stepping Out of My Fears & Onto the Stage
Written by Talena Bricker
My name is Talena Bricker. I am a singer/songwriter. It is honestly a difficult thing for me to say (or write) that out loud. It took me almost two decades of writing, playing and singing my own music to get up on a stage, alone, and share it. It took me that long to tell anyone besides my very closest friends and family about my songwriting. And I’m still not comfortable calling myself that now. I realize it probably sounds like a silly thing to be afraid of. But for me it was (and sometimes still is) terrifying.
Why after all that time did I finally decide it was time to put my music out into the world? How was I finally able to get up and share? Though there are many factors involved, I really feel like it stemmed from watching my own little children. I began to realize they were such an inspiration to me. They would sing at the top of their lungs, dance with abandon, love without worry and enter new circumstances full of strangers without hesitation (mostly). It’s not that they never had fears, but they seemed to instinctively walk over these fears and into new adventures.
After being around this example for a while, I searched inwardly. It is easy to take my fears for granted and stay stuck in them. It is easy to stay in my comfortable place. My place was sitting down and writing music when I was in distress. My guitar has long been one of my happy places. But sharing it with almost anyone was an anxiety inducing prospect. To be more accurate, it wasn’t even a prospect. I wouldn’t entertain the thought. I wasn’t confident in my writing, my playing, and definitely not in my voice. However, about two years ago, as I soaked in my children’s bravery, I realized that was a trait that I wanted too, to be brave. To do something that felt right, even if it felt very hard and very scary.
I have been in love with music since I can remember listening to Simon and Garfunkel and John Denver on road trips around my Pacific Northwest home as a young kid. I started to explore my own tastes coming across Weezer, The Shins, Elliot Smith, The Decemberists, Sarah McLachlan and countless other artists and bands who would influence, even change me. I was so grateful to those artists who chose to share their work that made my younger years a little easier, instead of hiding away their gifts. I started to wonder if my desire to stay in my own comfort zone was actually a selfish thing. What if what I had to share could be a gift to someone someday?
I have been a student of the arts since high school. Then, and in college, I was afraid to share my art. I was so scared of being judged unworthy, lacking, failing. Wise art teachers would insist that the process of sharing is part of the arts. I am grateful for that wisdom as I understand it now, though I only gave in because grades where on the line at the time (I have always had a fear of failing). There are innumerable, unexpected things that come when we share ourselves with others. I learned that failing, falling, making mistakes and not being perfect wasn’t the worst thing in the world. It could sometimes be the best. I certainly didn’t learn this well while in art classes. It has taken me many years and many lost chances to learn this lesson. I think I’m finally starting to understand.
My music wasn’t always ready to share with the masses. I wrote some seriously terrible songs (I’m almost certain that I DID rhyme fire and desire) and spent years being a truly awful guitar player (who didn’t realize how awful I was- which was apparent when I played my first 3 months WAY out of tune until a friend kindly tuned my guitar for me! ) However, I have learned that as I slowly started to share my songs with those very close to me (special thanks to several roommates, my siblings and my never endingly supportive husband for listening to countless mediocre, or worse, songs!), I was able to get an understanding of what felt like it was working and what wasn’t. I felt motivated to do better. I felt propelled to practice and grow.
Over a year ago, I recorded five songs in my hometown of Richland, WA at Sound Forge Studios. My producer, and mentor, Jason Vorpagel, helped me to understand that performing my music for a crowd of others was a sure fire way to feel out if a song worked or not. Though it seemed impossible, I decided to dive in anyway. I finally started playing live sets for rooms and restaurants full of people I don’t know. I can figure out more quickly what works and what doesn’t. Having my music up on Pandora, Spotify or blogs read around the world pushes me to try harder to create the best I can offer. But I’m trying to not get stuck waiting for perfection. That won’t come. Instead, I work on doing the best that I can, and as I keep going down that road, hopefully the best gets better. And though it’s scary to put even my best out there, when it will be judged lacking by plenty, it has proven so worth it, to me at least.
It is a scary and honest process, but going out of my comfort zone, opening up to people around me has come with an incredible gift. As I open up and share, I become more open. I connect with people. People connect with me. Connection is possibly the most obvious and unexpected blessing that has come out of this experience for me so far. I did not realized how closed off I felt until that started to change. I have found that even in daily life it is easier to be more open, loving, even caring and to really be able to connect with people. I have met so many amazing, talented, wise, and inspiring friends I wouldn’t know had I not stepped outside of my own fears. I’ve learned what things I can let go of, and what things I want to open up to. Stepping into my fears has been an incredibly freeing experience
Whether it’s been playing at a local battle of the bands (the first set I ever did of original work, all alone on stage), open mics, dinner shows, putting my songs online, playing gigs out of town, or even just playing a new, in-progress song quietly for my husband, I still feel tons of fear and anxiety about failing, not being enough, the unknown, and about 100 other things. I have to talk myself out of backing out and throwing in the towel every time. Yet, each time has been so completely worth it- I’ve made friends, gotten other gigs, heard amazing talent from others, learned and grown, been inspired to write new songs, and best of all, felt a true connection with other humans on a different kind of level then I had experienced before.
Since songwriting is the medium I usually choose to express myself, I will say that my debut EP that I released in January, called Drowning, is where I feel I really explore a lot of these feelings. I’ve realized I can more easily express things I am struggling with into a song before I am really conscious of the struggle. These songs were all written before I ever got up to sing my songs alone (I was in a band for a brief time and we did a couple of my songs, thanks to incredible friends who encouraged me on this path). They were written before I fully understood my feelings about opening up and moving forward. This EP is, for me, about all of the above. Getting past fear to open up, be more, love more, share more, connect more. It may mean something completely different to someone else (even myself at times) and that is one of the most amazing things about art. It can be so personal in so many different ways, depending on who is connecting with it. If I never shared it, there would never be that chance for connection.
So, even if it’s scary and weird and uncomfortable, I will say I am a singer/songwriter. Ages ago, I had a friend ask me what I wanted to be if there were no constraints of any kind. And that was my answer. I think he thought I was nuts. It was the only time I ever admitted that out loud, until now. I truly never ever thought I would really feel like I could say I was a singer/songwriter. And even if I only feel I can say it just a little bit, I feel grateful and excited for the progress.